There was no fat lady in the room, but everyone agreed she had finally sung, proving the adage that "it's not over till the fat lady sings." That happened one day the other week in my Northern California county -- Humboldt -- five weeks after the November 7 elections.
Election night tallies brought no surprises for statewide offices, Congress or state legislative races, but three city council seats and the mayor's office in the county seat and one county supervisor race were whisker-close. In a scene repeated thousands of times in counties across the land, the Elections Manager and his staff went to work pouring through absentee and provisional ballots, matching names and addresses with registration rolls, setting aside any with discrepancies for further investigation.
Californians mark paper ballots, putting "x" in the circle by each name they select. The ballots are counted by electronic machines, often put through twice to confirm the tallies. As a further accuracy check, elections officials in each county then canvass the ballots, recounting by hand a small percentage. Unlike those counties in Florida that caused the nation to holds it collective breath in 2000, there are no hanging chads in California; no stirring of chicken entrails to divine voter intent. (Remember the post-election bumper sticker in Florida, "Honk If You Voted For Gore -- That's the Big Button in the Middle of the Steering Wheel"?)
We hear much about the importance of "transparency" in ballot counting. The Humboldt County Election chief was a model of transparency, holding a daily briefing for the press and all interested parties during the elongated counting period.
A few days before the statutory certification deadline, November 27, he announced the results of the five nail-biting elections. There were no upsets. In some cases, the election day winners gained a few votes; in others challengers gained a few. In one Eureka city council race, the incumbent, Jeff Leonard, was declared the winner by 28 votes. His challenger, Ron Kuhnel, exercised his right to call for a full recount of the 8,000-plus ballots in their ward -- at his expense. Officials expected this to take three or four days. They completed their work in a day and a half, with the result that the incumbent gained four votes. Kuhnel, who paid $2,985.99 for the recount, said, "The race is over -- finally." And, County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich declared, "The fat lady sang."
But did she sing off key in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri? There, county elections officials reported that thousands of new voter registration cards handed in by ACORN, a community activist group, were highly questionable. One woman had 12 registration cards. Many were for addresses that did not exist. Some registrants were dead. The cards were piled in bins for detailed examination. Presumably, none of those in question voted.
It is usually Democratic spokespersons who clamor for ever-easier voter registration. I don't think this is what they had in mind. An ACORN spokeswoman, interviewed on television, allowed as how a few registration solicitors had not been fully trained. Considering the scope of potential fraud, it was more a case of willful negligence on the part of the trainers and management of the organization.
There is, of course, one sure way to make certain that the person stepping up to the table to get a ballot is the person whose name and address are on the rolls: have him or her show a valid photo identification card, such as a driver's license or passport. These days store clerks often ask for one when presented with a credit card. We show them at airports. Despite cries by some that requiring voters to show IDs is an invasion of privacy, there is no valid reason for not doing so. Unless, that is, one wants to encourage fraud.
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